Dr. Jonathan Sparks (Computer Science/Software Engineering ’08) has loved working with computers since childhood. He jumped at any chance to tinker with the parts or learn more about coding, programming his first website before he began high school.
He discovered his love for teaching around the same time. “I had some friends who were taking [harder] classes, and they were struggling,” Dr. Sparks said. “I had the opportunity to tutor them and to help guide them through some of the projects and help shape them in that way.”
When considering college, Dr. Sparks wanted to study computer science, but he also wanted a solid Christian education. As a high school student, he had toured the Pensacola Christian College campus with his church in 2002 and attended the dedication service for the recently completed Crowne Centre. “PCC was the one college that made the most sense,” Dr. Sparks said. “I just felt God say, ‘This is the place,’ and so I came.”
Several companies interviewed Dr. Sparks after he completed his undergraduate degree in 2008. During that time, Dr. Michael Geary, chair of Engineering and Computer Science, approached him about a faculty position at PCC. At first, Dr. Sparks wasn’t sure where God wanted him. “I started praying about it, and after some other doors shut, it just seemed like God was making this door open,” he said.
Dr. Sparks began his master’s degree from the University of West Florida and started teaching introductory computer science classes. He worked summers in the IT department, programming web pages for PCC. Recently, Dr. Sparks has also worked with the Institutional Effectiveness Office, analyzing data for incoming students to decide what level of classes each student should be placed in.
In 2015, Dr. Jonathan Sparks earned his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. His dissertation represented more than a grade to him—now he could contribute to research in previously unexplored areas. “As you go through advanced degrees, you are transitioning [your] focus,” he explained. “At the doctoral level, you’re starting to change places. Instead of being a consumer of knowledge, you’re adding to knowledge.”
The field of computer science is ever changing due to innovations and adaptions in technology. Dr. Sparks must be able to quickly adapt, especially since a mobile programming class might change coding languages between semesters. “[It’s] sort of like teaching Shakespeare in English one year, and then Swahili the next. The core fundamentals haven’t changed, but how you’re having to approach it does,” Dr. Sparks said. “In the computer science [field], you’re constantly learning new things and finding better ways to solve things.”
It has been almost 20 years since Dr. Sparks’s first experience as a tutor. He still works hard to guide and mentor the students in his classes. “[I enjoy] the opportunity to take someone from a spot where they’re comfortable and stretch them to a spot they didn’t know they could reach but was completely within their capability,” he said.
Dr. Jonathan Sparks recognizes that the end goal as a teacher isn’t only to help students excel in the classroom—it’s to help them bring glory to God. “One of the big motivators that God has put on my heart has been to remember that I’m always investing—I’m always planting a seed,” he explained. “I don’t always get to see the flower grow; I don’t always get to see the fruit of that seed. [But] God has always called us to be faithful and to do a work, and He’ll take care of the rest.”
Read more about how God is directing and working through PCC faculty and alumni.